Theme Parks, French style

23 02 2012

Travelling with children meant we tried to mix up the type of sites we went to: famous landmarks, educational sites, impressive historic castles – and theme parks. So we managed to get through a few of them. Here is my somewhat jaundiced summary of the parks we visited.

Paris Disney

Cheshire Cat in the Middle of the Alice in Wonderland Maze, Paris Disney


In my mind this is still Euro-Disney, but they seem to be making an effort to rebrand it. We had heard quite negative things about this outpost of the Disney franchise (dirtiness, smoking, poor service), but I have to say they seemed to have cleaned their act up. If you like Disney – well, it’s a Disney. Personally, having visited Orlando, it all seemed very deja vu. So Haunted House, Pirates of the Caribbean, Alice in Wonderland, teacups, fewer roving characters than we saw in Orlando, all the same merchandise stores. They do have creperies as an option within the park (small carts) for that French flavour, and the show in the afternoon (it was a show not a parade, so we were seated in exactly the wrong place) was in French. Yes perhaps we should have expected it but since the rest of the park was bilingual, we thought the show would be too.

Summary: if you like Disney, you’ll like this. If you are over it, you will be over this too.

Puy du Fou

Puy du Fou Viking story - this boat slid down the hill (this was not the one that rose out of the water)

This medieval theme park was pretty interesting, and seems to be the focus of great pilgrimages by people who are into medieval dress-ups. We stayed in the park hotel – little cabins built out over a lake – very nice. We ate in the hotel dining room – frankly pretty ordinary food and a limited range (despite the buffet). I’d give it a miss next time. The theme park itself has lots of olde worlde crafts and trades on display (live blacksmithing was a hit for us) and also has some historic shows which are really well produced and quite surprising. The viking show features a viking ship rising out of the lake complete with fire torches and live people on board. Love to know how they did that!. The Roman circus (in the Colosseum) featured live animals (lions) and a chariot race. The Joan of Arc show (it wasn’t called that) featured stunt riding and a massive mobile set. And another section had life-size automatons producing music and song. The merchandising is in theme – the salted caramel biscuits and violet-flavoured boiled lollies in the shape of delicate flowers were exquisite.

Summary: Even if you aren’t into medieval dress-ups, this is an interesting and suprising place to visit.

Asterix Parc

Asterix Parc

A great hit with the French – Asterix is a national hero! The great thing about Asterix Parc was that there were virtually no queues! After the queues at Disney, this was a great relief. Asterix Parc features a wide variety of rides including log-rafts, the swinging ship one, rollercoasters, and rides for smaller children. It is well set-out, the grounds are clean and the entire place is themed in the style of the various cultures of the Asterix books. The merchandising is also Asterix themed – we bought a selection of Asterix books in English (one of many languages available in the stores). NB: The Tom-Tom had difficulty locating Asterix Parc as a feature until we were in the local town.

Summary: a smaller park with fewer queues, but a great day out.

Futuroscope

Futuroscope

Futuroscope is another place the Tom-Tom had difficulty with it kept sending us to the staff entrance. As with anything labelled “Future”, it probably has difficulty living up to its name and hence had a sort of Jetsons feel about it, but having said that, there are a range of activities available, and some of them are even educational! The planetarium features shows about the origin of the universe. But there were also fun rides. Dancing with Robots involves sitting inside a robot contraption which then shakes you around, turns you upside down. Arthur and the Invisibles was a simulator ride that was an enormous hit with the children (but the queues were very long). And the biggest hit was a boat ride where you squirted water at the boats in front and behind you. Great shrieks of delight!

Summary: good day out, lots of quite unique attractions and rides, but the best ones all have long queues. Be prepared.


Want more photos of France? Here are a few more….
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
The troglodytes of Maison Fort de Reignac
Fontainebleau – Versailles without the queues
Chartres

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La Seine

17 02 2012

Every Francophile (and everyone with basic geographical knowledge of France) knows that Paris is built around the River Seine. Stretching east-west through the city, the Seine cuts through the most historic – and it has to be said – touristy sections of Paris. And while streetscapes are lovely, a streetscape with water reaches a whole different level of loveliness. And the many bridges that cross the river are decorative and have a history all of their own.

When travelling to france we were recommended to try the hop-on-hop-off tourist boats as a different way of seeing the city and also a convenient way of travelling. Unfortunately my travelling companion did not understand the concept of hop-on-hop-off, and so we did the full tour in one go.

Here are a few of our photographs of the Seine. (More links to other Paris photos at the bottom)

view of the Louvre across the Seine

view of the Seine from near the Louvre

looking up at Pont de Arts - the bridge covered in love padlocks

Pont des Arts (again)

view from Notre Dame

view from Notre Dame

view from Notre Dame

narrow channels around an island

Notre Dame from a boat on the Seine

The dots on the end of the island here are people sunbathing.

busy tourist traffic on the river

one of my favourite photos

looking across the Seine from Eiffel Tower

from Eiffel Tower

from Eiffel Tower


Want more photos of France? Here are a few more….
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
The troglodytes of Maison Fort de Reignac
Fontainebleau – Versailles without the queues
Chartres





Chartres

16 02 2012

Chartres is a city located 96km south west of Paris. We travelled through Chartres on our way to Mont Saint Michel on the west coast.

We were lucky enough to find our way out of the industrial area and into an historic area below the famous Chartres Cathedral. This is a hilly area with narrow laneways and tiny rivers in between beautiful tudor-style housing, all overlooked by the cathedral at the top of the hill.

The restaurant we had lunch in was gorgrous – very traditional French and not very touristy. Our restaurant-French was still quite rusty at this stage so we somehow ended up with frog as one of the main meals (not so different from chicken), but the food was delicious. When I got home and showed the photograph of the restuarant to a work colleague she recognised it as the same restaurant she and her sister had dined in some twenty years earlier!

So here are a few photogrpahs of Chartres (I promise many fewer that my last posting!. Enjoy!

(Links to more photographs of France are at the bottom of the posting)

an abandoned church

an abandoned church

the restaurant - amazing food, picturesque setting and excellent service - very patient with our restaurant French!

gardens next to the restaurant

The Cathedral overlooks the older parts of the town

looking up the hill to the Cathedral

steep roads

Chartres Cathedral from a distance


Want more photos of France? Here are a few more….
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
The troglodytes of Maison Fort de Reignac
Fontainebleau – Versailles without the queues





Fontainebleau – Versailles without the queues

16 02 2012

ornate gates to Fontainebleau

We loved Fontainebleau even more than Versailles for one major reason (the title may have given it away): no queues.

Fontainebleau was the official hunting lodge of the French Royal Family. Apparently it was originally a log cabin in the swamplands. Those days are long gone however, and in scale and in decor it now rivals Versailles, with many wings built around courtyards, long galleries and elaborate interior decoration. The French royals had no fear of adding patterns to patterns, gilding anything that didn’t move and painting scenes in any spare piece of flat wall or ceiling. Even the bedrooms are a riot of colour, detail and gilding – quite how one slept in there is difficult to imagine.

The forest of Fontainebleau remains, albeit considerably smaller than previous centuries, and apparently is home to many endangered species. I have to say in the time we were in France we saw very few wild animals – one rabbit, one baby deer and a couple of pheasants is about it. Coming from Australia where our wildlife unfortunately wander out onto the road, and where walking through a national park would undoubtedly bring you into contact with native animals, even if only snakes and lizards, this was really noticeable. Anyway, I digress.

The château is, as with most of these monumental buildings, the work of many generations. The original structure was built in the 16th century by Francis I. It is located about 55km from the centre of Paris and is easily accessible, although parking can be a problem.

We didn’t have time to explore the gardens here, but the château itself is magnificent. The electronic talking guide is worth the effort, so that you understand the history of the amazing pieces on display – Napoleon’s baby carriage, uniforms and field kits, for instance. The stories behind each piece are out of the history books.

We really enjoyed being able to see everything, not being rushed through, and have the peace and quiet to contemplate the surroundings and atmosphere of the château. And not having to queue to get in. However, it isn’t Versailles – Versailles does have that particular place in French history.

Hope you like lots of photos! (And there are more links to some other postings about our trip to France at the bottom of the page)

carved ceiling detail in the entrance

Guess who? Yes, Napoleon's coat and hat.

some of Napoleon's possessions

Napoleon's field kit

gorgeous funriture that I want in my home.....

view of the front of the Chateau from the first floor

elaborate gilded ceiling

view across the rear lower terrace from the ground floor

view across gardens and lakes from the ground floor

stone fireplace

pannelled walls and stools for courtiers

carved ceilings

carved ceilings

elaborate stone carving on the wall. The central piece represents the salamander, the emblem of the royal family, said to be able to survive fire.

domed ceiling

elaborate ceiling

view of one of the courtyards from an upper floor

elaborate ceiling

interior balcony for the royal family in the Chapel

view over the gardens at the back of the Chateau

another of the internal courtyards

elaborate painted ceiling

elaborate gilded ceilings

elaborate carved and gilded ceiling

the famous library at Fontainebleau

another view of the library showing more of the ceiling

stools for the courtiers and supplicants

throne room

bathroom

the chapel

the chapel

in the chapel

in the chapel

gate down the road from Chateau Fontainebleau - appears to be a private residence


Want more photos of France? Here are a few more….
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
The troglodytes of Maison Fort de Reignac





The troglodytes of Maison Fort de Reignac

15 02 2012

Maison Fort de Reignac is a 14th century fort clinging to the side of a vertical cliff. It is a combination castle/fort which towers about five or six stories of uneven floors, winding staircases and at the top, ladders. It is a miracle of early architecture that it has managed to stay upright over the centuries.

The people who lived in this castle/fort were nobles. One of the rooms was done up as a lady’s room, complete with tapestries on the walls and the comforts a noble lady would expect. Quite how she climbed the stairs in her skirts is another matter.

At the back of the fort was a cave which was being excavated by archeologists. The items being removed showed that this particular cave had been in occupation since Neanderthal times. The fort-dwellers were simply the latest in a long line of peoples who had found the cave in the cliff-side to be an excellent vantage point to spot oncoming enemies and perhaps herds of game. A number of items from the digs were on display.

One of the upper rooms also had a display of curios brought back from all over the world – dried puffer fish and turles, shells – and a collection of shrunken heads. Another room was used as a holding cell with a special hole z-shaped hole in the wall for passing food through so that the prisoner and the guard could not see each other directly.

This unique site also featured a memorable exhibition of torture equipment, complete with quite explicit explanations of how the equipment was used. Humans can be really horrible to each other and the types of suffering inflicted by human beings using these machines on other human beings was eye-opening. And I thought I knew a lot about medieval torture. In the end I actually walked out of this display halfway through. Luckily they specify no children and no photography in this room so hopefully over time the memories will fade. This was definitely not for the squeamish and you might want to give this particular room a miss.

view of the fort from the carpark

view from the entrance of the fort - great place to spot approaching armies

base of the fort

base of the fort - upper levels are less conventional in appearance

entrance to the fort

displasy of items dug from the back of the cave behind the fort

displays of items dug out from the caves at the back of the fort

paved floor

view from one of the lookouts

looking down at the carpark

torture cage - for humans

display of curios including shrunken heads

view from the lookout at the top of the fort - a very long way up the cliff


If you liked this post you might also like some more posts from France…..
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe





the amazing gardens of Château de Villandry

11 02 2012

I find geometric designs very attractive – almost mesmerising – so one of the more memorable châteaux we visited in France was Château de Villandry in the Loire Valley (Vallee de Loire) which boasts the most amazing geometrically designed gardens.

As with all the Châteaux we visited, there were two ticket prices – Château , and Château + gardens. In this case the gardens are very much worth the visit, although their true spectacle is probably best viewed from the upper floors or rooftop of the Château. The gardens are not only ornamental, they are also symbolic (many of the designs symbolise various aspects of love) and functional – many of the plants are vegetables. One can only assume there is a team of gardeners employed year-round to keep these gardens in such amazing condition.

Enough chit-chat – these gardens speak for themselves!

we arrived at the châteaux on a murky morning luckily it cleared up quite quickly.

the gardens have a series of canals stocked with large gold and black fish


Want more photos of France? Here are a few more….

Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
The troglodytes of Maison Fort de Reignac
Fontainebleau – Versailles without the queues
Chartres
La Seine
Theme Parks, French Style
Where Da Vinci lived





An unknown Chateau

11 02 2012

We visited this stunning Chateau on our recent travails around France. Unfortunately my labelling of photographs seems to have failed me here and I cannot identify which Chateau it is. Also, it was closed when we went there so we didn’t get to look around inside. If you know the name of this Chateau, please put it in the comments section. I believe it is in the Dordogne region.


Keen for more pictures of France? And these are all labelled!
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
Napoleon’s Tomb
Versailles